A new study out of Seattle suggests a link between smoking and an increased risk of breast cancer in young women. Additionally, the study suggested smoking didn’t increase breast cancer risk uniformly. Certain types of breast cancer saw a higher prevalence among smokers; however, smoking didn’t increase the risk of other, more aggressive breast cancer subtypes.
Dr. Christopher Li reported to Reuters Health “…there is growing evidence that breast cancer is another health hazard associated with smoking.” Li, of the Seattle Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, authored the study.
Research Remains to be Done
While previous research cemented the link between breast cancer and cigarette use, studies among younger women were less clear. This new research suggests that even young women face increased risks from smoking. One aspect that remains unclear is why some breast cancers are promoted by smoking, while others are not. Li notes that breast cancer is divided into many subtypes, and shouldn’t be considered just one disease. He stated in his Reuters interview, “In this study, we were able to look at the different molecular subtypes and how smoking affects them.”
The study examined data on young females from the Seattle Metropolitan Area who received their diagnosis sometime between 2004 and 2010. The majority of the women were diagnosed with the breast cancer linked to estrogen receptor sensitivity. Much of the thought behind this cancer is that estrogen encourages cell growth, including in damaged cells. The control group included 938 cancer free women, about the same number as the experimental group.
The National Cancer Institute reports that one in eight women in the US develop breast cancer within their lives, but usually after decades of life. For women under 40, only one out of 227 people will develop this group of cancers before age 40. Women who ever smoked developed breast cancer at a rate 30% than non-smoking women. However, risk of triple-negative breast cancer did not increase. For people that smoked 15 years or more, the rate jumped to 50% more likely to experience affliction with the estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. The greater the amount of time spent smoking, the higher the risk of cancer became.
Beyond Cancer, Smoking Linked to General Cell Damage
The physiological link some researchers suggested involved estrogen-like compounds found in cigarettes. If these were able to match with estrogen receptors, damaged cells with those receptors could more easily proliferate. The researchers of the study noted that the myriad of chemicals in cigarette smoke makes it difficult to predict which chemical caused which effect.
Additionally, the combustion of chemicals found in cigarettes causes chemical reactions that lead to different, sometimes unknown reactions. Though much research still needs to be done, it does appear that smokeless alternatives, like e-cigarettes, may present a better option for those who are struggling to kick their nicotine habit.Finally, many chemicals aren’t as specific in their damage as the estrogen analogs found to contribute to estrogen-receptor positive breast cancers. For example, carbon monoxide, a product of combustion, binds to hemoglobin irreversibly. This makes it harder for cells throughout the body to get oxygen, causing non-specific damage.